BETHLEHEM — Local officials cut the ribbon on the long-planned Delaware Avenue Hamlet Streetscape Enhancement project on Friday, Dec. 15.
“We are very thankful to all the business owners,” said Supervisor John Clarkson, noting that some inconvenience inevitably comes with any construction project. “They have had to put up with quite a bit. Our goal from the start was to have this project start and end within a single construction season . . . it wasn’t perfectly on time, which is why we’re out here in this seasonably brisk December weather. But they got it done within a year.”
Clarkson commended town planning staff and the engineering and construction companies that worked to complete the project so quickly, even while running into a series of unexpected delays after digging up several unexpected objects during construction.
“I believe the construction term is substantial completion,” he said, acknowledging that there are several elements yet to be completed. New road signs and flashing pedestrian beacons are expected to be installed by next week, while decorative brick-style crosswalks will have to wait until next spring as they require warmer weather. The replacement of overhead street lights are also expected to be installed in the spring, working with National Grid. Finally, a giant mural will be installed when delivered by the manufacturer in the next couple of weeks.
The mural, which will be mounted on the abutments on either side of the Delaware Bridge, between Hudson Avenue and Oakwood Place, will stand seven feet tall and 33 feet long on each side, according to Planning Director Rob Leslie. It highlights each of the neighborhoods and hamlets throughout the town, depicting images of daily life in Bethlehem.
The streetscape project also installed pads for three transit shelters, located at Main Square, St. Thomas and the Delmar Reformed Church. “The actual installation of the shelters will be done by CDTA,” said Deputy Commissioner of Public Works Paul Penman. “We are coordinating with them and expect them to be completed over the winter.”
The full streetscape project involved the implementation of multi-modal and streetscape enhancements along Delaware Avenue, from Elsmere Avenue to Adams Street, as well as portions of Kenwood Avenue and Adams Street. These enhancements consisted of new sidewalks, crosswalks, curbing, on-street parking, street trees and decorative lighting fixtures. The total project cost $3.1 million, with $1.9 million provided by the town and the other $1.2 million through a grant from the New York State Department of Transportation.
“This effort goes back at least a decade, probably more,” said Clarkson. “There were two citizens groups that were involved. One was the Delaware Avenue Enhancement Committee that produced the first study on this and that was followed up by the work of the Delaware Avenue Improvement Group, which is a public/private group still very much in existence, which the town co-chairs with the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.”
He noted several new businesses that have opened along that corridor in recent years, and a few that are set to, such as the Bliss Smoothie Bar that will be located right next to the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail. Clarkson credited the multi-modal nature of the improvements and walkability for at least some of that new development.
State Senator Neil Breslin, who lives not far from Delaware Avenue in Delmar, was on hand to commend Clarkson and town staff. “This is fantastic,” he said. “These are the kind of events that I love to be at, because it’s a win-win-win for our downtown. And all of us who live here know that it’s the finest community in the Capital District.
“To everybody involved in this,” he said, “congratulations. Job really well done. I thank each of the restaurants and bars for being patient, because you’re going to be rewarded. We’re going to have people walking these streets and shopping and,” he chuckled, “pleasing the Chamber of Commerce.”
“This, this, this is how you build community,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. “These types of public investments are what leverage the growth of businesses, but it’s not just the businesses. It really is that sense of community, aside from the safety aspect of it with the schools so close by. People want walkable communities.”
Breslin and Fahy both commended Clarkson for seeing the project through, noting that talk doesn’t always lead to action.
“I know that that work will absolutely continue under David VanLuven,” said Fahy of the town’s supervisor-elect.
“We know this has been a challenge for some of the businesses here,” said Jennifer Kilcoyne, president of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, “but there have been much-needed improvements.” She noted that on-street parking and easier vehicular access to businesses made the project beneficial to drivers as well as pedestrians, cyclists and those who use public transportation.
Landscaping and other finishing touches have been completed, according to Penman, and may be touched up in the spring.
The project added 118 new trees to the Delaware Avenue corridor, said Clarkson. “And that doesn’t include the 60 street trees through our regular program,” he said. “So, all told, there are 178 new trees, which is something we’re very proud of.”